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Face of Defense: Airman Learns Navy Small Craft Operations

CHARLESTON, S.C., Aug. 30, 2016 — A few miles from the bustling runways full of cargo planes at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, an airman is acquiring his sea legs.

Air Force Senior Airman Austin Walworth, with the 628th Security Forces Squadron, recently earned the Navy's Small Craft Insignia. It is believed that Walworth is the first member of the Air Force to achieve such a designation.

The Coxswain Pin, as it is commonly called, originated in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. The pin recognizes elite sailors who were specially trained to operate small boats in combat.

Small Boat Operations, Tactics

"This pin signifies that Airman Walworth has achieved the highest levels of qualification in small boat operations and tactics," said Navy Lt. Charles Gatewood, the waterfront operations officer at Naval Support Activity Charleston.

To become eligible, Walworth completed several qualification stations, two small boat coxswain courses and planned and led a small team in completing a mission.

The Level I, or Shore Installation Management Small Boat Coxswain course introduces small boat terminology and equipment, basic concepts of navigation and maritime law. The Level II course builds on that knowledge and teaches operators how to tactically employ the boats.

"Weapons are a big part of the course," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Cobb, harbor security training supervisor and lead instructor of the Level II course. "But mostly, we discuss high-value asset security and how we maneuver the boats to prevent attacks, as well as conducting insertion/extraction and search and rescue."

Employing Classroom Lessons

After building on the fundamentals in the classroom, students put what they learn into action through live combat scenarios in the water.

"At the end, we got to actually execute the mission we planned," Walworth said. "Seeing everything come full circle and putting all of our training together to get the job done was pretty rewarding."

Earning his insignia provided an appreciation for what the Navy does, Walworth said.

"In the Air Force, we are used to operating on land, and this type of navigation in the water is completely different," he said. "All I knew was air base defense, but once I got onto the boats here, I wanted to be the best I could be at it."

The story of Walworth's climb up the ladder from airman to small boat crewmember to coxswain is beneficial for both branches of service.

‘A New Avenue for Security Forces’

"This opens a new avenue for security forces airmen to see how the Navy does waterborne security," Gatewood said. "After completing the course and earning their pin, it allows multiple services to speak one language on the water to help minimize miscommunications. It also helps planning because the airmen have a better grasp on factors to be considered when performing a maritime security mission."

Cobb said Walworth's dedication paid off personally, and it provides an example to other service members assigned to Joint Base Charleston.

"He sets the new standard for all the airmen following in his footsteps," Cobb said of Walworth. "After earning his pin, he is considered a subject matter expert on everything related to small boats."

Walworth, who hails from Claire, Michigan, welcomes the expectations that come with breaking down barriers.

"In today's world anything can happen, and we have to be ready to react to any threat out there," he said. "I look forward to seeing and being a mentor to new airmen coming into the program. And, I hope they catch as much of an interest as I did."
Distribution channels: Military